"…a love of skiing is something I can give, and that makes me really happy."
The legendary Herman "Jackrabbit" Smith Johannsen was one of the pioneers of skiing in Canada. Born in Norway in 1875, Jackrabbit first stood on a pair of skis at the age of two. As a youth, he was rated one of the finest all-round skiers in Norway, which, as this was before there were the divisions between disciplines we have today, included jumping, cross-country, downhill, and navigating all kinds of rough terrain.
Jackrabbit trained as a mechanical engineer in Germany and his career brought him to the United States where, as a sales engineer for heavy machinery, he traveled a great deal all over North America. During his winter travels in northern latitudes, he always brought along his skis.
It was during one of these trips to northern Ontario that he met the Cree, from whom, legend has it, he received the name Jackrabbit for his ability to get around so quickly in dense woods and deep snow on his skis. Another story has it that he earned the nickname from his cohorts in the Montreal Ski Club after a trip to Kanoraset, where he outraced them all.
In 1928, Jackrabbit and his family moved to Canada, settling first in Montreal and finally, in Piedmont, Quebec. The Great Depression brought a downturn in his business and it was this point that marked his shift from "mechanical engineer" to "skiing engineer." Jackrabbit designed the Seigniory Club ski jump at Montebello in 1930. He acted as an official in a number of competitions and, as an authority on skiing, was one of the invited officials at the Third Winter Olympics at Lake Placid in 1932, where he was a co-coach of the Canadian team.
Over the years, he cut and maintained hundreds of kilometers of trails throughout the Laurentians, including the famous Maple Leaf Trail. An inspiration to thousands of skiers, Jackrabbit was actively involved in cross-country skiing, right up to the end. Traveling full circle, Jackrabbit passed away in his native Norway in 1987. He was 111.